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Reviews of movies and television shows.

Strong Men, Strong Women – A Retroactive Review of How to Train Your Dragon

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Yes, readers, I am coming back to the subject of strong women. One cannot fail to notice how modern movies show us women who out-men the men these days. They practically hit viewers in the face with this bull-headed idea, and it has to stop.

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At first glance, Dreamworks’ How to Train Your Dragon appears to fit this mold of “women are better than men.” Astrid, the heroine of the film and its sequel, begins the movie as the ultimate example of a girl who out-boy’s the boys. She is strong, fast, smart, and the top of her class, which is mostly made up of boys.

Now her competition is hardly the greatest; it is, in fact, a perfect example of the way Femi-Nazis want men to be perceived, by themselves and by women. Of the four boys in her class, Astrid is physically as strong as the boys. Fishlegs is a large boy and therefore relatively strong, but he is also fearful. This makes him absolutely no competition for Astrid in the arena, as he spends most of his time there running away from the dragon of the day.

Snotlout is strong, but he is so self-centered it is amazing he can even walk in a straight line. Tuffnut not only has less muscle tone than these two characters, he has lost whatever brains he had by constantly fighting with his twin sister, Ruffnut. In one of the films intriguing reversals, however, she is also no real opposition for Astrid. Ruffnut is almost as moronic as her twin brother – and in How to Train You Dragon 2, he actually shows more intelligence than she does on a couple of occasions.

As for the hero of the piece, Hiccup can barely lift an axe. He is scrawny, weak, and definitely no physical competition for Astrid, whom he adores from afar because she will not give him the time of day. So of all the young Viking warriors to whom the audience is introduced, Astrid is presented as the best, the brightest, and the strongest of the lot.Typical SFC, right?

Nope.

Things begin to change for Astrid when Hiccup secretly starts working with the Night Fury he shot down.In caring for Toothless, Hiccup learns about dragon habits, finding their weaknesses as he studies him. After a while, he outstrips Astrid in the training center by defeating the dragons sent against the trainees via his newfound knowledge. Everyone mistakes this for a sudden turn in Hicccup’s physical prowess rather than realizing he is winning these engagements through anatomical knowledge.

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Only Astrid sees how he is actually beating the dragons – and thereby her – in the training center. And she does not like it. She finally follows and confronts Hiccup in the dell where he has kept Toothless hidden, demanding answers about his sudden rise to prominence over her. This leads to her discovery of Hiccup’s secret friendship with the Night Fury.

Furious at Hiccup, but happy to be back at the top of her class, Astrid races off to tell the villagers what he has done.

Hiccup manages to derail that attempt by chasing her down on Toothless and begging her to let him explain what he has learned. Reluctantly, Astrid agrees to at least let him get her out of the tree he and the dragon set her in.

But Toothless goes further than Hiccup wanted him to go by getting Astrid to apologize for abusing his rider. When she finally does this, the dragon relents and provides her with her first real ride through the sky.

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This ride uses some of the best CGI in the film, and it is clear that Astrid is as enchanted with the beauty of the scene as the audience is. Hiccup and Toothless fly her through the clouds while the sun sets, then bring her up to see the Aurora Borealis bloom in the starry sky. Overwhelmed by the beauty, Astrid lets down the guard she has placed around her heart and wraps her arms around Hiccup’s waist – a gesture he is quick to note, though he says nothing about it.

When discussing the character, however, the critics – along with many fans and probably the actors themselves – focus not on Astrid’s reaction to this scene but on her physical skills, strength, and stamina. What most of the critics will never admit is that until Toothless gives her the first dragon ride of her life, Astrid has been living a false persona in order to get ahead.

Think about it, readers. Astrid is surrounded by fierce, resilient Vikings who have been waging a war with a local nest of dragons for three centuries. In order to fit into this world, Astrid suppresses her natural sweetness and love for beauty, focusing instead on becoming a strong, ferocious warrior in order to be the future dragon-slaying heroine of Berk.

Hiccup, who is the butt of the village jokes because he physically cannot handle a weapon, has no such recourse in his day-to-day life. He has to rely on his wits, on what he builds, to make any mark on the village – and most of those marks are more damaging than helpful. The village mantra is not eloquently spoken, but it essentially reads thus: to be accepted by the society of Berk, one has to toe the popular line. This means that the men and women of the island have to be fierce warriors with no time for, or inclination toward, study and learning.

Astrid follows this prescription from the start, more so than any of the other village children. She practices harder than they do to learn combat techniques and criticizes herself harshly when she makes the slightest mistake.

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On the other hand, though he tries time and again to fit in with the stereotype perpetuated and expected by his elders – especially his father – Hiccup cannot suppress his natural curiosity and sense of wonder. His skinny frame, lack of muscle tone, and reliance on machines to do what the other Vikings can do by hand is not accepted by the adults. His curiosity, his willingness to study and learn so he can invent a gadget to help him better his life, also marks him as different – a difference the villagers of Berk cannot accept until the end of the film.

In this way the Island of Berk in the movie serves as a microcosm of modern society. Though it is oft proclaimed that children should “be themselves” and pursue what makes them happy, there are no end of adults in official positions who will cheerfully slap down any signs of individuality and personal gifts the children under their supposed care demonstrate. Whether they realize it or not, they do this in order to maintain an expected status quo and the mantra that “girls rule while boys drool.”

Boys are routinely told through modern media that they are stupid, boorish, and disgusting. And if they are smarter than average, they mask their intelligence to avoid persecution. In How to Train Your Dragon, Snotlout exemplifies disgusting and boorish behavior with his constant passes at Astrid (who duly ignores his attempts to snare her for a date).

Tuffnut practically embodies the modern idea of the stupidity of boys. He regularly boasts about his strength, courage, and intelligence, only to be proved lacking in all of the above before the final battle. He hates learning about anything that does not involve pranking or fighting, disdains reading and other academic pursuits the way germophobes fear bacteria.

Fishlegs, meanwhile, is the trite smart boy. Bursting with facts he has memorized from the Book of Dragons, he is painted as the stereotypical geek overflowing with knowledge but who is, at the same time, short on courage. With competition like this, Astrid has no problem being the most likely to succeed at the Dragon Slaying Academy of Berk.

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Hiccup is the only boy to defy the Berkian – and therefore the modern – trope. By studying Toothless in order to help him fly again, Hiccup puts his knowledge to good use in the arena. He “defeats” dragon after dragon without killing them, and he does it so well that he unintentionally outshines all the other students for the first time in his life.

When Astrid discovers the source of his new skills and fame, Hiccup knows he has to convince her to change her mind, or Toothless will be killed. After their initial hard ride, Astrid admits Hiccup is correct about how amazing Toothless is. The three are then inadvertently drawn along with the swarm of dragons taking food to the Red Death, learning the secret of the dragon attacks as well as the location of the dragon’s nest. Upon their return, Hiccup is forced to stand up to Astrid when she asks if he is seriously prepared to forego ending the dragon war in order to protect Toothless.

In this moment, Astrid and Hiccup finally break down the barriers that Berkian society has forced on the two of them. Hiccup proves he is man enough to protect his friend at personal cost to himself. Meanwhile, Astrid takes on the proper role of the supportive friend who also happens to be developing romantic feelings for the boy she once scorned.

The scene shows the two discovering who they truly are, though perhaps only one recognizes the change in self-perception. Hiccup, distracted with his fear for Toothless’ safety and stopping a war which has lasted for three centuries, does not see in himself what Astrid now sees. Though he is skinny and not physically strong, Hiccup is strong in his will to protect his friend and to end the war. He does not know how he can do it, but he does intend to do it. While he knows it will cost him the acceptance he thought he longed for his whole life, his determination and courage do not waver in the face of that apparent loss.

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Recognizing this about him, Astrid’s hardened heart at last thaws out. Presented with a young man who says what he means and has the strength of will to see it out, she realizes that she has no need to show the perfect warrior front to him. Hiccup is already a warrior, having broken custom to discover something wonderful in the dragons all the other Vikings fear as menaces. So Astrid stops behaving like a violent-tempered Viking shieldmaiden and acts like what she really is: a girl longing for a true friend who will accept her for herself, not for her skills or her looks.

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This relationship between the two characters is expanded upon in the second film. In this story, it is Astrid who makes the mistake that leads to a deadly confrontation with the movie’s antagonist, Drago Bludvist. Her pride in Hiccup’s skills as a dragon master blinds her to the very real danger facing her and her friends. At the same time, Hiccup himself undergoes a metamorphosis as he learns that he cannot run from his responsibilities because, sooner or later, they will catch up with him and demand his attention. He becomes a “manly man” in How to Train Your Dragon 2, as Astrid embraces her femininity without losing her warrior skills.

The architects of modern society are trying desperately to prevent the children and youth of today from discovering this self-knowledge, readers. They are working hard to confuse them; they are telling boys that they must either act effeminately or behave like barbarians in order to be accepted by society. Girls are routinely told that they can do anything, that they are as good as the boys, even when it becomes manifestly obvious that they are not and cannot be a boy.

This is hurting today’s youth. The boys are growing up, avoiding college and prospective jobs and are avoiding fatherhood at an even more alarming rate. Meanwhile, the girls must juggle their natural instincts toward beauty, marriage, and motherhood with the idea that they must be something else. As a result, more young women are thrust into college, there to take courses of dubious merit, and then trying to enter a labor force with no room for expansion. At the same time more and more young men are retreating from that front because they are being precluded from doing so.

The modern world needs more Hiccups and Astrids, readers. It needs men and women who will challenge and destroy the sacred, golden cows of modern society. The world needs women who realize they will be happier when they embrace their womanhood; it needs men who will defy the stereotype that has been forced upon them. It needs men of courage, men of honor and dignity, men who recognize and love women for who they are, not for what they can or cannot do.

A woman loses nothing by being a mother, just as a man loses nothing by being a father. If anything, the roles grant them more power, prestige, and wonder than any other job in life….if only they are willing to see that truth.

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Spotlight: Sing – Gunter

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You can tell that I really enjoyed Illumination Entertainment’s Sing, can’t you, readers?

In all honesty, when I first saw the trailers, I did not think I would like the film. But then I began to take an interest in the trailers and found myself getting more and more curious about the story. Finally, I had the desire to watch the movie, and I convinced some friends to view it with me after it came out on DVD.

My post Sing: Of Hope and Optimism, covers my opinion of the show’s plot. In this Spotlight! post, I want to focus on one of the best characters in the film. And no, he is not my favorite; that honor lands squarely on Rosita’s shoulders. Even during the trailers, she was the one I “connected” with on sight.

Gunter is a European pig who somehow came to live in the city that is home to the other characters in Sing. Judging by his name, he is either from one of the Scandinavian countries or he is German. He has an accent that sounds like it is from that region. He also likes to wear sparkly body suits for some reason – probably because he has no qualms about showing off his “major piggy power” to the world whether they like it or not.

Anyway, after we watched the film, my friends and I fell to discussing it. Eventually we asked each other who were our favorite characters. In the process, we all discovered that we liked Gunter – even when some of us were sure at the start of the film that we would hate him.

I got to thinking about this a little while ago. Though my friends and each had a different favorite character in the film, we also had a lot of affection for Gunter. I wondered why this would be and came up with a possible answer some time ago.

Gunter is a hopeful pig, as I said in Sing: Of Hope and Optimism. Anyone who tells you that hope is not an attractive virtue has to be lying through their teeth. The reason that I say this is because I think that this quality of Gunter’s is one of the reasons that my friends and I like him so much.

As I said in the previous post, Gunter never loses hope. Now hope is not some ethereal, blithe belief that sunshine and rainbows will follow you everywhere you go. It is not a flimsy outlook that makes you go around smiling like the Joker every minute of every day. As I said before, real hope is the desire for some good you do not have but which you want to obtain, and which you are willing to stay the course to achieve.

Things happen in Sing that make Gunter sad, that make his face fall. But the key thing here is that he does not let these things keep him down. He can handle disappointment just as well as he can handle success; one will make him sad while the other will make him happy. But the fact is that failing or having a streak of bad luck is not going to break his spirit – and that is an amazingly great characteristic to have, readers.

This is the other thing that is so wonderful about Gunter. He has a palpable zest for life. From his enthusiastic dance moves to his belting out the lyrics as he sings to the energetic encouragement he offers his fellow competitors/performers, Gunter exhibits a contagious joi de vive that cannot help but bring a smile to the viewer’s face. He does not enter the competition for the money as much as he does for the fun. With the exceptions of Mike and, to a lesser extent, Ash and Johnny, none of the other performers audition to win the prize, either. It might have caught their eye initially, but for the most part they came to the theater to do something they enjoy.

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And boy, does Gunter enjoy performing!

Gunter also shows a sense of empathy and kindness in the movie, such as when he helps Rosita comfort Ash after her boyfriend dumps her. He does it again when Rosita succumbs to her self-doubt and leaves in the middle of rehearsal. He is, in many ways, the perfect counterpoint to Rosita, who has become so accustomed to being in the background that she stresses out about finally entering the spotlight. Not one to be part of the stage scenery, Gunter does his best to encourage Rosita to come out of her shell and strut her stuff. Thanks to Mike, his first attempts do not work very well, but Rosita later shows an appreciation for his efforts after she returns to the stage.

These things all add to Gunter’s natural sense of fun, which makes him such a happy performer. He does not care if people think he looks silly or stupid or like a dancing bowl of Jell-O. He is going to have his fun, and people can either have fun with him or laugh at him. He will shake off the mockery and laugh with those who laugh with him.

All these qualities come together to make Gunter a likeable character who could qualify as the bonding, emotional heart of the cast. At first he seems unimportant, but by the end of the movie, you wonder how any of the characters would get along without him.

He is one of the big selling points in Sing for this reason, and this is why I would say he is probably my second or third favorite character in the film. In a world where hope, fun, joy, and simple kindness are mocked and derided, it is nice to have a character that possesses all these traits and does not give a fig whether or not others care for these things or him. We need more Gunters in the world, readers. They make it a better place by far.

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Sing: Of Hope and Optimism

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Borg.com is a really good blog to follow, readers. They keep track of all the latest news on comics, films, and television shows on this site. It was through them that I found The Librarians and Star Wars Rebels. They post trailers for upcoming movies and can be relied upon for detailed information on most of the big franchises we see everywhere today. It was through them that I learned about Sing, the animated film from the same company which gave us Despicable Me one through three.

Illumination Entertainment hit the big time with Despicable Me for most people. They followed it up with The Secret Life of Pets and Sing, as well as some other films I probably do not know about.

I have seen The Secret Life of Pets. It is long on laughs and short on story. However, Sing had a totally different effect on me. There are plenty of laughs in this film, but there is also a story to chew on here. Secret Life of Pets really was not anything to write home about, unfortunately; it was cute, but not great.

Sing was good. It is not up there with Despicable Me and its sequels, but it is above Secret Life of Pets and leagues above Disney’s Zootopia, a film that was long on amazing animation and had just a drop of story in it. That film was a flash in the pan, sadly.

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Anyway, Sing takes place in a world full of anthropomorphic, talking animals, much like Zootopia. Specifically, it takes place somewhere in California, in a city that is like a mash-up of L.A. and San Fran, according to the movie’s creators. The lead character is a koala named Buster Moon, who owns a dilapidated stage theater. Buster fell in love with the stage and the showmanship required to run it when he was six. His father worked for thirty years to earn the money for Buster to buy the theater after this.

But things have not been going so well for Buster. None of the shows he has tried to produce have been a hit with the general populace, tickets have not been selling, and the bank is calling to tell him to settle his accounts or they will take the theater.

Desperate to save his theater, Buster hits upon the idea of holding a singing competition. He barely has enough money and “goods” for a prize for the winner, but he goes ahead with this plan anyway. The one kink in the arrangement is that his secretary has an accident and the flyers advertising his competition subsequently say the grand prize is $100,000 dollars, not $1,000.

Well, this brings everybody and his brother to audition for the competition. Buster picks out a motley crew from this crowd: Johnny, the son of a thief; Rosita, a stay-at-home mom of twenty-five piglets; Gunter, a European pig who is an enthusiastic singer and dancer; Mike, a street musician with slick paws; Ash, a porcupine rock star wannabe, and Meena, an elephant with a great voice who is too shy to sing in public.

Well, by and by, Buster finds out about his secretary’s mistake. But he still moves ahead with the competition, asking a famous former star of his theater’s golden days to sponsor the concert’s prize. But things go down the drain when Mike’s attempt to cheat mobster bears backfires in his face. The theater is destroyed and Buster briefly goes into an emotional tailspin as a result.

Now I will not spoil the ending for you, readers. But one of the things that I keep running across is a description of Buster by those who have seen Sing. They keep calling him “optimistic.”

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Normally, I do not take issue with this word. Optimistic, to me, generally just means looking for the silver lining in a situation you really wish you were not in. Nothing wrong with that; with very few exceptions, we can all find a little grace in undesirable circumstances. It could be in a ray of sunshine that slips across our faces at the right moment, a call from an old friend we have not heard from in a while, or good entertainment that lifts our spirits. There is nothing wrong with that at all.

No, my problem is when people use false optimism in place of the genuine theological – and therefore real – virtue of hope. This is actually Buster’s problem throughout most of the film. He is an optimistic little fella, sure. But he relies on an optimism founded on his self-belief as though it is hope. These two things are miles apart.

Optimism will give you a reason to smile when life hits you hard, and if it is founded in hope, then you are in good straits. But optimism founded on a belief in yourself and your own powers will not – cannot – keep you going. Buster is ready to quit after his theater is destroyed. His optimism, his belief in his ability to save his property, fails after the theater’s collapse. The negative press he receives after this only deepens his depression. He has no more hope after he loses what he was trying to save.

In contrast, none of Buster’s singing competitors are truly hopeful or even optimistic. They all have very good reasons not to be. Johnny’s father is a criminal who lands up in jail when his son does not show up with the getaway car in time. His dad practically disowns him after this. Rosita is a mom of twenty-five who thinks she has lost her ability to perform, if not her ability to sing, while Ash’s boyfriend dumps her and invites another girl into their shared apartment. That is one surefire way to kill optimism, I can tell you!

Mike is a con artist who wants a big score which will get him off the streets. He is in the competition, as he is in life, to win what he thinks is ultimate happiness – the perfect materialistic life. He repeatedly mocks the others, especially Rosita and Meena, who has no optimism because she believes her stage fright will make her look foolish in front of everyone. After the theater is destroyed and their dreams appear to disintegrate with it, none of the competition’s cast is optimistic.

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Even Gunter does not have optimism. You might think that is silly for me to say, once you see him; the guy almost never has a frown on his face. He is harder to put down than Buster.

And that, readers, is the point of the matter. Gunter does not have a misplaced optimism founded on himself and his abilities. What he has is hope. Hope is a fragile little virtue we treat like a penny. It is an easy word to bandy about but it has a meaning far deeper and richer than its four letters, just as a penny is worth more than its size would suggest. Hope is anticipation of something; the longing for some good and the trust that you will receive what you desire as long as you stay the course.

Buster goes through the movie thinking that he alone can save his theater. And when his last ditch scheme unravels, destroying his prized theater in the process, his optimism is shattered. He put his faith not in Someone else, not in his friends, not in the performers he gave hope to, but in himself. And let’s face it, readers; we disappoint ourselves more often than not. We are not all-perfect or all-powerful. Too many of us think we are, alas, but the fact is that none of us are God.

Now, this trust in his own powers does not make Buster a bad guy. The proof of this is that, although he sets up the competition and competitors in order to serve his own purposes, Buster gives most of his singers what they have lacked up to this point. He has given them hope by recognizing their talents and giving them a chance to show them off.

This is proved when his cast of performers – minus Mike – comes knocking on Buster’s door to try and encourage him to put the show on somewhere else. To Buster, the competition was meant to save his theater. It was not about his reputation or the money; he just wanted to keep that old theater alive in a world that had lost its taste for the art of the stage.

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To Johnny, however, the competition meant a chance to do what he has always enjoyed. It was a chance to be who he wanted to be, not who his father and the other members of his gang assumed he wanted to be. For Rosita, the competition was a chance to prove that she had not lost her touch; that she could still dance and sing, and thereby impress the people who took her for granted.

For Ash, the competition meant achieving her dream of becoming a rock star. Gunter’s dream of performing live and hamming up his enjoyment of singing and dancing could finally come true on this stage. And all Meena wanted was to get over her shyness so she could finally sing without fear.

Buster did not see any of that because he was too focused on what he wanted. That was not an evil thing, just a selfish mistake he made out of pure stubbornness. It is only when he happens to overhear Meena singing where no one can see her that Buster gains perspective. Hearing Meena sing, he realizes that she really does have talent. He remembers all the other singers and realizes that they do, in fact, have talent as well. He comes to understand that they deserve a chance to perform, and that he has a duty as a showman to see to it that they get that chance.

Meena’s singing is what gives Buster hope. His optimism is replaced with genuine hope as he remembers that he did not want the theater simply for the theater. He wanted it because of his desire to be a showman; to be the talent scout who would bring scenes of “wonder and magic” to an audience, just as he had been given a sense of “wonder and magic” by the performances at the theater when he was a child.

And let me tell you, Buster delivers on this by the end of the film. Not only does he deliver, but he even gets what he wanted in the end; to be the manager of the theater his father helped him buy. By helping his friends achieve their dreams, Buster regains his theater along with his love of showmanship.

Sing is a good story for this reason. It is a story about real hope, not false optimism. It also reminds us that “wonder and magic” are important to daily life; Sing urges the audience to keep practicing the arts we love that brighten the world and give people hope. For without a sense of the “wonder and magic” of the world, we quickly come to see everything through either Buster’s or Mike’s filtered lens. We either fall for false hope masked as “optimism,” which claims we can get whatever we want through our own power, or we chase after a phantom “perfect happiness” in this world. The latter will never be found in this universe of space and time, and the former only leads to misery.   I will take hope and wonder over these two things any day of the week and twice on Sundays.

Well, readers, this is my opinion of Illumination Entertainment’s Sing. But you do not need to take my word on how good this film is. Borrow or buy it and watch it yourself. And do not forget to Sing whenever you feel like it!

Brave-ly Done (More Disney Music)

Every child is influenced by the entertainment they are shown. I am fortunate in that I saw many Disney movies as a child. I do not like every Disney movie out there, but most of them are hard to dislike. After all, Walt Disney was not in the habit of writing trash. He was one of those rare entertainers who earned money as a reward for telling a good story, not telling any old story just to make a dollar. *Sigh.* We could use a few more storytellers like that these days!

Anyway, readers, here are some more Disney songs which I would like to share with you. I hope you enjoy them! After all, it’s…

“A Whole New World!”

The Mithril Guardian

Brave

Touch the Sky

Aladdin

Arabian Nights

One Jump Ahead

Friend Like Me

Prince Ali

A Whole New World

 

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

I’m Wishing

A Smile and a Song

Whistle While You Work

Heigh-Ho!

Scrub in the Tub

The Dance in the Dwarfs’ Cottage

 

Robin Hood

Ooo De Lally

Love Goes On

A Pox on that Phony King of England

Not In Nottingham

 

 

The Jungle Book

Elephant Patrol

Bare Necessities

I Want to Be Like You

That’s What Friends Are For

 

Mulan

You’ll Bring Honor to Us All

Reflection

I’ll Make a Man Out of You

A Girl Worth Fighting For

True to Your Heart

 

 

The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride

We Are One

Upendi

Not One of Us

Love Will Find A Way

 

(I know it’s not technically a Disney movie, but they are the ones who translated it into English, so….)

The Secret World of Arietty

The Patriot – A Review

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A few days ahead of the Fourth of July weekend, I happened to catch The Patriot playing on television. If I had ever seen The Patriot before, it was when I was very small and I forgot most of it. Curious, I turned on the movie – which had run half its course – and watched the second half of the story.

This left me somewhat confused about how the film began and who the major players in it were. So I caught a second showing of the film on July 2nd, determined to see what I had missed. Once I reached the place where I had entered the story a few days prior, I almost changed the channel, but was persuaded not to do so in the end. Good stories tend to draw me in the same way that black holes pull in space debris. After a few minutes, I was hooked on the film and not going anywhere.

The Patriot stars Mel Gibson as Benjamin Martin, a widower with seven children caught up in the Revolutionary War. Much like Jimmy Stewart’s Charles Anderson in Shenandoah, Martin wants to stay out of the War, despite being a Patriot – the name at the time for those who advocated American independence from Britain.

Heath Ledger stars as Martin’s oldest son, Gabriel, an ardent supporter of the Revolution who eventually joins the Continental Army without his father’s permission. Firefly fans will also be able to quickly identify Adam Baldwin. He plays a Loyalist or “Tory” who joins the British army encamped in South Carolina under General Cornwallis. Baldwin performed in this film a year before being cast in his signature role as Jayne Cobb in Joss Whedon’s short-lived television series. Meanwhile, Jason Isaacs plays William Tavington, the captain of the British cavalry who not only doesn’t mind using brutal tactics against Americans – civilians and soldiers alike – but seems to lust for the chance to kill some Colonials.

That, however, is describing the middle of the story. The movie begins with messages summoning Benjamin Martin to South Carolina’s congressional session, where the debate about whether or not the colony should rebel against England rages heatedly throughout the day. Though Martin wants independence from Britain, he knows that if the colonies start a war with the mother country they will be ravaged and pillaged by the Brits. Having fought in the French and Indian War before his marriage, Martin is well aware of how savage fighting among civilians can be. And since the battlefields will be on the property of land owners and farmers like him, he also knows their families will be caught in the crossfire. So he abstains from voting to leave Britain, refusing at the same time to vote to remain loyal to King George III.

That very evening, the delegates’ votes are counted. In a forty to twelve decision, South Carolina joins the War for Independence. Gabriel joins the line waiting to sign up to join the Continental Army and, under his father’s disappointed gaze, writes his name on the role of newly minted Continental soldiers.

Two to four years pass. Gabriel writes letters to his family, telling them how the War is going in the north. The second of Benjamin’s children, Matthew, reads the letters out loud to his younger siblings excitedly. Fifteen and keen to join his older brother, Matthew is continually disappointed by his father’s refusal to let him enter the army until he is seventeen. Too enthusiastic to wait that long, Matthew starts melting down his lead chess set to make musket balls.

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One night, while the younger children are eating dinner and Matthew is upstairs, Benjamin surprises a house intruder who turns out to be a wounded Gabriel. Benjamin takes care of the wound, only to hear gun and cannon fire outside his house. He looks out to find his worst fear coming true: Redcoats and Continental soldiers are killing each other on his front lawn and in his fields. The War has come to the Martin household whether they like it or not.

The next morning, Gabriel wakes to find his family and their hired black servants tending to the wounded from the two armies. He walks out onto the front porch not long before Tavington rides up. The British captain orders the Martin house burned, since they have aided not only wounded British soldiers but injured and dying Continentals.   He also orders the free blacks, whom he at first mistakes for slaves that Martin owns, be impressed into the British army. When one of the men protests that they are free and therefore do not need to serve the British crown to earn their liberty, Tavington tells them they are going to be Redcoats whether they like it or not.

That is when one of Tavington’s men shows him Continental dispatches found in the house. Gabriel was carrying them when he was injured, and his father left them somewhere in the house during the confusion in the night. To protect his family and fellow soldiers, Gabriel admits to being the bearer of the dispatches. Tavington decides that he will be hung as a spy, despite Benjamin’s reminding him that Gabriel is a courier and was not caught in disguise. Therefore, according to the rules of war, he cannot be hung as a spy.

But Tavington does not care about the rules of war. He wages war the same way the British actually did at the time; by throwing fear and heartbreak into the lives of innocent civilians. He threatens to kill Benjamin’s other children if he doesn’t shut up about Gabriel’s actual status as a courier and not a spy. Then, when Matthew tries to free his brother, Tavington shoots him, calling the youth a “stupid boy.”

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As the British Redcoats kill the wounded Colonial soldiers and set fire to the house and the hired hands, along with the family’s hired black maid, Abigail, are driven away like so many cattle, Benjamin holds his son while Matthew dies. Benjamin is devastated. He is also infuriated. He retrieves muskets, pistols, powder, and shot from the burning house, along with his Cherokee style hatchet. Then he takes his two remaining older boys to rescue Gabriel.

The Patriot is a REALLY good film. Though its story and heroes are in part fictionalized, a number of the events in the film did occur in fact and spirit, so the story does an excellent job of conveying the general atmosphere in South Carolina during the War for Independence.

Of course, since the film is pro-American and puts the British in a bad light, it has been criticized a fair bit. While it is true that one particular scene showing Tavington ordering the burning of a church full of Colonial civilians did not occur, the other acts of cruelty we see him perpetrate in the film are actually based in history. Not long after watching The Patriot, I happened to catch AHC’s miniseries “Patriots Rising: The American Revolution.” Several of the facts I mention from here on are from this series.

Despite Cornwallis’ statement that the Americans were “fellow Englishman” the Crown wanted to bring back into the fold, the British had no qualms about killing injured Continental soldiers or burning down the houses of even suspected Patriot supporters. So the burning of the Martin house, the destruction of Martin’s sister-in-law’s plantation, and the killing of American soldiers and civilians did happen during the War for Independence. This is something the British did in India and their other colonies. When rebellion among the native populace broke out the British would burn the houses of sympathizers, kill the injured, and find barbaric ways to terrify the civilians to make sure that they would stop supporting the rebellion.

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One actual example of British viciousness from the War for Independence came on April 19, 1775 during their retreat from the Battles of Lexington and Concord. Driven from Concord and Lexington by American Minutemen, the Redcoats were ambushed by an eighty year old man named Samuel Whittemore on their way to Boston. A veteran of Britain’s campaigns against the French and the Indians in the New World, Whittemore was no spring chicken, even by our standards. But he went out with other Patriots to face the British. He shot three Redcoats with his musket and dueling pistols before drawing his confiscated French saber and going to work on the Lobsterbacks with the blade.

Whittemore did not get far before he was shot. You would think this would pacify the British. No sir. How dare this old man attack them, the best army the world had seen in centuries! While he was on the ground, the British soldiers bayoneted Whittemore a dozen times at least, maybe more. They left him for dead, but Whittemore survived his wounds. He died when he was in his nineties.

My point in bringing this up, readers, is not to incite anger and hatred toward the British. It is to point out that they were not, as they would have us now believe, pure and clean as the wind driven snow during the conflict which lasted from 1775-1783. Though the church scene in The Patriot did not take place in reality, the British were in truth quite vicious to the Continental soldiers and Patriots during the War for Independence. Their claim that every last one of their men was a chivalrous gentleman is stuff and nonsense, and they should NOT be allowed to get away with playing the victims here. They would not – and have not – cut us any slack when it comes to our historical blunders, and turnabout is fair play in this regard.

Another criticism aimed at The Patriot is that it “glosses over” the issue of slavery in America at the time. In particular, some people took issue with the fact that the blacks on Martin’s farm at the beginning of the film are free. By rights, critics argue, these blacks should have been slaves, something Mel Gibson agreed with.

However, by this criticism the critics show their ignorance. In point of fact, there were many free blacks before, during, and after the War for Independence. There were free blacks up to the time of the Civil War, and some of them fought for the Confederacy of their own volition.

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One of the free blacks who fought in the Revolutionary War was a man named Salem Poor. Buying his freedom in 1769 for twenty-seven pounds, Mr. Poor was married and had an infant son by the time he joined 100 other blacks fighting alongside the other Patriots at Bunker Hill. Congress commended him for his actions in that battle later and, lest you think there were only a hundred free blacks on the American side of the argument, the one hundred at Bunker Hill were only a fraction of those who fought with the Americans for independence. There were at least five thousand free blacks fighting for the Revolutionary forces during the War.

There were also slaves who worked as spies for the Continental Army. One such was James Armistead, who ostensibly worked for Cornwallis. He was actually a Patriot spy who fed Cornwallis false information that led to the general remaining in Yorktown. This was where Washington, the Continental armies, and the French fleet bottled Cornwallis up in 1781, forcing him to surrender.

The British assumed that all blacks in America were on their side, since they had promised that any black who fought for the British Army would be granted his freedom after the war (yeah, right). The Patriot nods to this in the final battle in the film; one of the Redcoats in the front line of the British ranks is black. You have to look at the line real quick to catch him, but he is there.

Armistead’s spying was the undoing of the British at Yorktown and probably in other places. Occam, the slave who eventually earns his freedom under Martin’s command, is representative of slaves like Armistead who fought for the Continental Army. According to blackpast.org, Lafayette wrote a testimonial on Armistead’s behalf in 1784, dismayed to find he was still a slave after his service for the Revolution. Two years later, the Virginia General Assembly emancipated Armistead, who married, raised a large family, and received forty dollars a year (big money at the time) for his services during the War. I think it likely that the slaves that fought in the Continental Army or militias, as Occam does in The Patriot, were freed by the end of the War as well.

For the historical record, it is also worth noting that the American Army had other “minorities” in its ranks. This is “whitewashed” out of history courses these days, but both the British and the Americans relied on Indian aid during the War. Most of the Indians sided with the British, since they considered the American settlers direct enemies, despite the fact that the British generally deemed the Indian tribes of North America to be enemies that they tried to eliminate by the expediant of biological warfare.

The chiefs of the Oneida tribe might have known this, because they sided with the Americans during the War for Independence. The Oneida were part of the Iroquois Confederacy, a confederation of five or six North Atlantic Indian tribes that had caused the French nothing but trouble. But when the rest of the Confederacy remained firmly on the side of the British, the Oneidas and Tuscaroras sided with the Americans. At the Battle of Oriskany on August 6, 1777, according to oneidaindiannation.com, Han Yerry and his wife, Tyonajanegen, joined at least 60 Oneida in a fight against the British. Yerry was wounded in the wrist and his wife had to reload his pistols for him. According to the website, she had her own guns as well. Later, during the winter at Valley Forge, when Washington’s supplies ran low and his men were dying of disease and the cold, Yerry and his tribe brought them corn to keep them going. Without Han Yerry, Washington might not have had an army after that bivouac in Valley Forge in 1776-1777.

There were also plenty of women who worked for the Continental Army. A former indentured servant, Deborah Sampson, left her family’s farm not long after the War began, telling them that she had found a job elsewhere. Once she was well enough away from home, she changed into the Continental uniform she had made for herself and signed on as a “man” who served in the Army until she had to be discharged due to disease, later receiving a pension for her service. To the best of my knowledge, she was never injured in any battle in which she took part.

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Another woman who worked for the nascent American government was Nancy Hart. A southern woman with eight children, Nancy’s husband fought with the Americans during the war. Nancy was a big woman – about six feet tall – and in the right clothes, she could easily pass as a man. Once her farm duties were taken care of, she would go out at night, dressed as a man, and walk around British encampments in South Carolina. In this way she picked up information she could send to her husband to help in the war effort. When Tories invaded her farm looking for an escaped Continental soldier, she got them drunk and held them at gunpoint until her husband and the militia arrived. Her husband wanted the men shot, but Nancy said that was too good for them and said they ought to be hanged instead. The men followed her advice.

Elizabeth Burgin was a humanitarian worker who tried to help American prisoners kept in the hulks out in New York Harbor. Like the hulks mentioned in Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, these stripped down and worn out British warships in New York Harbor were used to hold American POWs. Describing them as unsanitary would be an understatement; ten to twelve men would die each day aboard these prison ships, to be turned over to the British guards so they could be buried on the shore.

Elizabeth decided she could not stand back and let these men die. With the assistance of a Patriot spy, she helped two hundred men escape the ships. No one knows exactly how she did it, though they have most of the details of her plan. When the British caught on, they put a price on her head – two hundred pounds, equal to twenty years’ worth of wages for a Redcoat. Elizabeth had to abandon her rescue operations and was eventually awarded a pension for her service. Her only regret was that she could not save more men from the prison ships than she had.

In light of these facts, The Patriot can be seen as a historically accurate film. It may take some liberties with real history, namely with the church burning event, but the rest of the story is right on the money. The British really were brutal in the manner they waged their wars. For them to pretend that the black events of their past did not happen and to claim slander over The Patriot is downright hypocritical.

The British criticism of The Patriot is largely unfounded and it should not weigh on your mind when you watch the film, readers. Be forewarned, it can be gory. It originally had an R-rating in 2000. On the television in 2017, it was listed under the TV-14 rating. Wow. We have changed a lot in seventeen years, haven’t we, readers?

Go enjoy The Patriot at your earliest opportunity, people! God bless America!!!

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Star Wars: Rogue One

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If you guessed that I have at last seen Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, readers, then you have good deduction skills. Yes, I saw Rogue One a day late and a dollar short. But after the less-than-exciting The Force Awakens, I was a little leery of any Star Wars fare.

I enjoyed the trailers for the film – I even reposted one from borg.com here at Thoughts on the Edge of Forever. I wanted to see Rogue One. I wanted to like it. But I did not want to spend money on a film I would later wish I had not paid good cash to see. So I waited and saw it on DVD.

It was a great movie, and it belongs right up there with the original Star Wars trilogy, in my opinion. Yes, there were a few small things about it that I did not like – Leia’s CGI face was kind of scary, and I never got to see the Ghost escape the Battle of Scarif. But since Hera and Chopper have appeared in Lego Star Wars: The Freemaker Adventures, I guess our Rebel band got through the battle safe and sound.

On the whole, the film was a hit with this viewer. Cassian and Jyn came off as sullen more often than not, but their supporting cast more than made up for this. Chirrut Îmwe, Baze Malbus, K2-SO, and Bodhi Rook were great fun. I would have to say that Îmwe was my favorite. From his Force mantra to his, “Are you kidding me? I’m blind!”, Îmwe was one lovable character. Yoda would have found him an apt pupil.

K2 would probably be my second favorite, partly because he is portrayed by actor Alan Tudyk, the pilot of Serenity in Joss Whedon’s Firefly series. The other reason I liked him is because he came off perfectly as a sassy former Imperial droid you could not force to behave. Despite that tough shell, though, he also proved to have a soft side, such as when he apologized for smacking Cassian and when Jyn handed him a blaster in the Imperial base on Scarif. And watching him kill Stormtroopers was a scream – for them more so than for me!

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Baze was my third favorite and the perfect counterpoint to Îmwe. Where Îmwe is the true believer despite all the evidence that calls for despair, Baze is the former believer who has become a cynic due to the heavy losses he has suffered since the Empire came to power. I have to admit, I really wish I could have his blaster mini-gun as well!

My fourth favorite would probably be Cassian. Raised in the Rebel Alliance, fighting the Empire from the (rather unbelievable) age of six, he is a Rebel assassin and spy. He also happens to hate most of his job. There is very little warmth in him at first; as I said above, he and Jyn tend to come off as grim for most of their time on screen. This is kind of irritating, which is why Îmwe and K2 are higher on my favorites’ list.

But considering that Cassian and Jyn have dealt with the Empire’s brutality and the often necessarily nasty tactics of rebelling against it, there is very little reason for either of them to smile or joke or be lighthearted. Îmwe and Baze have suffered losses at the Empire’s hands, but they have never had to compromise their moral compasses when fighting it. K2 is a droid built to kill, much like the Knights of the Old Republic’s HK-47, so he regards battle as just another day at the office. Bodhi is new to the Rebellion. He has also never stepped outside of the “law” prior to Galen Erso’s urging to defect to the Rebellion. Cassian and Jyn did not have any of these luxuries.

Jyn was not a bad character, though after a while I did become a little bored with her. I enjoyed the scene where, after her father has been killed and her Rebel escort has returned to the ship, she raises her hand – only for Îmwe to catch and hold it in the manner of a friend. He was silently reminding her not to return death for death, and I thought it was a very touching gesture. Yes, Cassian was going to kill her father. Yes, the Rebel Alliance bombed the base in order to kill him. But killing Cassian would not undo any of that, which is why Îmwe took her hand to stop her from losing her temper.

Finally, we come to the Battle of Scarif. What a fight! I loved every minute of the X-Wings zooming around and zapping TIE fighters to atoms. I have not winced, jerked, and bucked in my seat while watching a Star Wars battle since I was young and viewing A New Hope for the millionth time.

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Speaking of which, the reused footage of Red and Gold Leader from A New Hope was great. I almost squealed with delight as I recognized the actors. I could tell that the footage was original – I watched A New Hope almost as often as I watched 101 Dalmatians or Peter Pan when I was small. I made the trench run with Luke and the other Rebel fighters zillions of times, so I knew Red and Gold Leader very well by sight alone. Finding them in Rogue One was a treat!

The other wonderful – and amazing – thing about the Battle of Scarif was the land battle. As someone I know pointed out, the footage of the Rebels fighting in the jungle was reminiscent of the way American soldiers fought in the Vietnam War. The way the troop ships dropped Rebel fighters onto the beach was a parallel of the deployment of soldiers and Marines in the jungles of Vietnam, too. The Rebels charging across the beach resembled Marines running up the beach on Iwo Jima and the soldiers storming the beaches of France on D-Day, but the drops by the troop ships were unmistakably based on Vietnam deployments.

Some of the Rebels’ gear, too, resembled the uniforms used by American soldiers during Vietnam. Several of the unnamed Rebels’ helmets and jackets were the same style as Vietnam War helmets and uniforms used by American soldiers during that conflict. The door gunner shooting at the AT-AT Walkers was also a direct nod to Vietnam door gunners. I was proud to see these parallels. It is high time our Vietnam veterans were acknowledged like this and I think it is a compliment.

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Finally, no review of Rogue One would be complete if I did not mention the winks and nods the writers added to let us know that the cast of Star Wars Rebels lives beyond their fourth season. At least, Chopper, Hera, and the Ghost survive the series’ final season. When Cassian shows Jyn the force of Rebel assassins and spies he has collected to help her steal the Death Star’s plans, someone can be heard paging “General Syndulla” over the PA system. Hera Syndulla, captain of the Ghost and Phoenix Sqaudron’s fighters, is at some point raised to the rank of general during or after season four of the television series.

Chopper can also be seen by the keen-eyed when the Rebel radio operator charges out to speak to Senator Mon Mothma. This is after the Rogue One crew begins their attack on Scarif. I missed Chopper in the film, sadly, but I had already seen him on the Internet during one of the Rebels’ Recon episodes. And I did hear him grumbling while watching the film. Huzzah!

Just like Chopper, I also could not keep track of the Ghost for most of the space battle above Scarif. This upset me because I could not see if the Ghost had escaped before Darth Vader’s Star Destroyer arrived and began blasting the Mon Calamari carrier to bits. My friends went back to the battle scenes after we had finished the film and replayed them in slow motion so I could see the Ghost. (I have very kind, patient friends who put up with A LOT from me.) With the film slowed down I was able to see the Ghost in action for much of the fight. As in the television series, she was protecting the carrier in the fleet rather than swinging farther out into the battle with the star fighters.

However, we never get to see the Ghost jump to hyperspace before the Executor, Vader’s flagship, arrives. I am still a little upset by that, I admit; I would have liked to see them fly away from Scarif safely. But c’est la vie!

I was also not as impressed by Darth Vader’s “temper tantrum” aboard the Mon Cal cruiser, as others were. But I can just picture what some of the Rebel crewers had to say when the scene was over and the director called “Cut!”: “Killed by Darth Vader. BEST DAY EVER!!”; or “This is so going on my resume!”; and the perennial, “I feel fulfilled!”

All in all, Rogue One was just as good as I hoped it would be. I was bummed that the main cast died, so I do not think I will be watching it as often as I once watched A New Hope. But I did enjoy the film, and I do wish I had gone to theaters to see it on the big screen. Those, however, are minor quibbles. This was a great movie, and I highly recommend it to you, readers! So remember –

The Force will be with you, always!

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The Pirates of Penzance

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Years ago, I met a group practicing for a play. It was a Gilbert and Sullivan play, but I did not know that at the time. I enjoyed the singing and the lyrics, and one of the friends with me at the time said that I had to see The Pirates of Penzance.

I was more amenable to the idea than I might normally have been. There was something in the practice session that hinted at a great story worth seeing, and so I readily agreed to watch a film of the play.

A film copy of the play was found soon after. Starring Kevin Kline, Rex Smith, Linda Ronstadt, Angela Lansbury, George Rose, and several others, it promised to be a great deal of fun. And that, I soon discovered, was the understatement of the year. As the story started I began to smile. Within five minutes I was choking on giggles. In ten, I was laughing out loud.

For those of you who do not know, Gilbert and Sullivan were two playwrights who wrote comedies in the late nineteenth century. Both were knighted and neither of them could stand the other. They each had aspirations to be the greatest in their respective fields and this meant that neither of them wanted to write comedies, especially if it meant they had to work together all the time. This was in spite of the fact that they were making a veritable killing at this work. The weary duo ended their partnership some time before they died, to the dismay of their fans. Sullivan, who was the younger, died first.

The Pirates of Penzance is one of their best known plays, along with H. M. S. Pinafore and The Mikado. In Penzance we are introduced to a Pirate King (Kevin Kline) and his scurvy crew. The crew is having a celebration for their young apprentice, Frederic (Rex Smith), who turns twenty-two today and thus ends his indentured servitude to them. How did Frederic become indentured to a pirate gang?

It turns out that his nurse, Ruth (Angela Lansbury), misheard Frederic’s father when he gave her a commission. Frederic’s father wanted his son apprenticed to a pilot, but Ruth misheard him and thought he said pirate. So she accidentally indentured eight year old Frederic to the Pirate King’s crew!

Frederic does not hold this misunderstanding against Ruth – it is an easy mistake to make, after all. He has come to know the pirates aboard the ship over the years and likes them all individually. But the fact is that they are pirates, the scourge of the sea, the plague of merchantmen, the locusts of seaports. And so in a general way Frederic hates the pirates he grew up with as the vilest scum of the Earth. And in the abstract he cannot believe that he has been duty-bound to help them ply their terrible trade from the time he was eight years old.

The pirates do not hold this against him, though, since they cannot seem to “make piracy pay.” Frederic knows why this is; because they are orphans, the pirates give orphans a free pass. And word of this nobility on their part has gotten out. The last three ships they tried to take were all manned by orphans, so the pirates spared them.

If you are saying, “Yeah, right,” you would be correct. Frederic points out that everyone knows England does not recruit orphans to crew its merchantmen; they need men with families and titles to command the ships. But because the Pirates of Penzance are known to spare orphans, the crews for these ships pretended to be orphans in order to escape them.

Once the clock strikes noon, Frederic sets out from the pirate ship, taking Ruth with him. Ruth is an older lady by now, but she is the only woman Frederic has seen and known since he was eight. He expects to marry her, a prospect she very much likes, since otherwise she will die an old maid with no one to take care of her.

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But on pulling up to an English beach, Frederic espies a group of girls his own age come to the waterside to have a little fun. Finding Ruth has lied to him about her age and beauty, he casts her off before going to see if one of these young ladies will marry him.

His attempt almost ends in disaster. But one of the girls, Mabel (Linda Ronstadt), appears on the scene before all hope is lost in the young man’s heart. It seems that she lagged behind the other girls and only caught up with them to hear Frederic’s entreaty for a wife. She tells him to “take her heart,” and he is quite happy to do so…

Then the Pirates show up, and the fun kicks into high gear!

There is another version of The Pirates of Penzance which is worth a viewing as well. This one was performed in New York with Patricia Routledge, the lead actress in the British sitcom Keeping Up Appearances, portraying Ruth. If you ever saw her as Hyacinth ‘Bucket’ Bouquet and thought she had a terrible voice, you will be surprised to hear her singing here. She pulled a fast one on those of us who watched Keeping Up Appearances, I can tell you!

Have fun with The Pirates of Penzance, readers!

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